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Deputy PM: I share Anderson’s concerns over threat of violence to politicians

Oliver Dowden said Mr Anderson would have kept his job if he had apologised
Oliver Dowden said Mr Anderson would have kept his job if he had apologised - BBC

Oliver Dowden, the Deputy Prime Minister, has said he agrees “more broadly” with Lee Anderson over concerns about the threat of violence towards politicians.

Mr Anderson, a former Conservative Party deputy chairman, was stripped of the Tory whip on Saturday after he claimed that Islamists had “got control” of Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor.

The Ashfield MP had been responding to a Telegraph article by Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, in which she wrote that “the Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge” of the country.

Her comments came after Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, sparked anger over a vote on a ceasefire in Gaza by allowing a vote on a Labour amendment, leading to some accusing him of giving in to extremists.

Speaking on GB News on Friday, Mr Anderson said: “I don’t actually believe that these Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is that they’ve got control of Khan, they’ve got control of London.

“He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates… If you let Labour in through the back door, expect more of this, expect our cities to be taken over by these lunatics.”

The comments led to widespread condemnation, with Labour accusing Mr Anderson of “appalling racism and Islamophobia”.

Lee Anderson
Lee Anderson said: ‘I don’t actually believe that these Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is that they’ve got control of Khan’ - Tayfun Salci/Avalon

Mr Dowden said it was “appropriate” for the whip to have been removed from Mr Anderson, but that he was “more broadly” voicing concerns about threats of violence towards politicians.

He told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: “I think what Lee Anderson was more broadly expressing in his interviews, and others have done, is a deep concern – which by the way I also share – about the way in which politics has been conducted and what has happened over the past week.

“I never thought in my lifetime as a politician, I would see a situation where what was happening in the House of Commons was influenced by the threat of violence, and that has caused huge anger and frustration, it’s deeply un-British and it’s right that we should call it out”.

Mr Dowden added: “I don’t believe that Lee Anderson was intending to be Islamophobic but nonetheless, I understand the concern, perhaps particularly when it’s in relation to the Mayor of London, how those words had caused offence.

“That is precisely why he was given the chance to apologise – and when he failed to do so, action was taken.”

He said Mr Anderson would have been able to keep the whip and stay in the Conservative Party if he had apologised.

Meanwhile, Labour also called for Liz Truss to have the whip removed this weekend, after the former prime minister appeared alongside Steve Bannon in the US and he called Tommy Robinson, the far-Right activist, a “hero”.

Mr Bannon, former White House chief strategist under Donald Trump, took part in an interview alongside Ms Truss at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.

Liz Truss should have ‘called out’ Steve Bannon’s comments, said Oliver Dowden
Liz Truss should have ‘called out’ Steve Bannon’s comments, said Oliver Dowden - Michael Brochstein/Shutterstock

Mr Dowden said that Ms Truss should have “called out” Mr Bannon’s comments, and that he would have done so in her position.

“What I would say is that when the cameras are on you and you’ve got a big debate going on, you sometimes don’t catch every single word that someone says – but that’s for Liz to explain why she didn’t call it out at that time,” he said. “I certainly would have called it out had I been in that situation and heard it properly.”

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, accused Rishi Sunak of harbouring “extremists in his party” following both Mr Anderson’s comments and Ms Truss’s media appearance.

He told the Observer: “It’s right that Lee Anderson has lost the whip after this appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst. But what does it say about the Prime Minister’s judgement that he made Lee Anderson deputy chairman of his party?

“Whether it is Liz Truss staying silent on Tommy Robinson or Suella Braverman’s extreme rhetoric, Rishi Sunak’s weakness means Tory MPs can act with impunity.

“Rishi Sunak needs to get a grip and take on the extremists in his party. The Tories may be getting more and more desperate as the election approaches, but Rishi Sunak has a responsibility to stop this slide into ever more toxic rhetoric.”